16 architects of color speak out about the industry's race problem
By Asad Syrkett, Tanay Warerkar and Patrick Sisson
22 February 2017
Photos courtesy Andre Wagner, PAU, Naho Kubota
Long before a divisive presidential election proved that race and creed remain as critical topics of contention in American society, issues of racial representation had leapt into the limelight in a number of industries. As the American Institute of Architects turns 160 years old this year, the profession of architecture still has progress to make toward the goal of inclusiveness.
College of Environmental Design alumnus and Dean’s Advisory Council member Vishaan Chakrabarti (M.Arch ‘96) and alumnus and founder of Leong Leong Chris Leong (BA Arch ‘00) were featured in a list of 16 designers, architects and practitioners of color working in the architecture industry who have faced race-related challenges.
Perhaps most crucially, each offered advice about how the profession can break down barriers of entry for people of all backgrounds, explaining why it matters. Below is an excerpt from both of their interviews.
Vishaan Chakrabarti, Founder of PAU and Associate Professor of Practice at Columbia GSAPP
Since this election, the world has only heard two major statements from the architecture world: [the American Institute of Architects executive vice president’s statement that the AIA is “committed to working with” Trump and Zaha Hadid Architects principal Patrik Schumacher’s pro-privatization speech].
The most craven instincts drove these statements, and they are to be repudiated. They are completely at odds with the fundamentally progressive mission that architecture not only represents, but that virtually every student and faculty member that I know in architecture espouses.
Leadership in the field has to be way more diverse. We need to see a complete change in who is running this profession. Because it isn't just about the diversity of identity politics; it's about the work that architects create and how they impact the cities in which they work.
To channel President Obama, this is about creating a more perfect union. It isn't just about whether people are accepting of immigrants; it's about whether there is truly equal opportunity based on merit. In our field that is clearly still not the case. It is still imperative upon all of us to create that dialogue and make it better.
Chris Leong, Founder, Leong Leong
The institutions that govern our society, or play a role in shaping it, should be reflective of our society. And I think that's not the case. That's one of the challenges that we're all confronting, especially with this recent election and with the new president.
There need to be more initiatives that are actually outwardly looking to reshape what diversity is. I think you get more of this stuff happening now. SCI-Arc recently announced its spring lecture series, and every person on there is a male architect. That gets called out now. Everything that gets composed needs to have that thought: Is this being reflective? Is there diversity at my conference table with this committee? Is there diversity on this lecture panel? Who are we speaking to, and who are the people that are speaking? Maybe that's subtly shifting. But I think that's where it starts.
Race is a challenge that I face personally. I think it's a challenge of responsibility and awareness about my role and what's happening, too, within our society, within our country. I think the problem with race in the United States never goes away.
You can read the article in full here.